A Rough Patch

In mid December, which seems like a lifetime ago, we had to say goodbye to our dog Jojo. He was a good boy for over 16 years. Initially I was not what you’d call a “dog person” but that changed over the years. While he was much closer to my wife than me, following her around the house wherever she went, he was a part of the whole family. It was especially hard on my youngest who hasn’t known a time without Jojo around. We’d known for some time that it was time. For the last few months he couldn’t walk very well. He’d fall down and couldn’t get back up especially on non-carpeted floors. He couldn’t see very well. He had a lot of accidents and you could tell he was ashamed. We knew it was time but it took us longer than it probably should have to let him go.

Though we agreed as a family that we’d make the right decision it was still hard during the first holiday season without him. We’d scheduled two weeks during the holidays to get away from everything and try to just be. It started well enough. We went to visit my mom and stepdad (Johnny) in Chattanooga that Sunday before Christmas. My mom is in poor health and he had been working hard at his job and taking care of her, but he still made sure to make us his famous “green chili” for our visit. Our visit lasted a few hours as we gobbled down that chili and watched them open our Christmas presents then he packed me up some leftover chili and we headed home.

Christmas was a low key affair. Just me, Susie, and the kids with the oldest coming in from Knoxville the evening before. It was a peaceful day spend opening presents and watching A Christmas Story on repeat all day long. The oldest returned to Knoxville that evening a we settled in to enjoy the remaining week and a half reprieve before returning to the daily grind.

On Friday, the 27th we got the news that Johnny had been admitted to the hospital after having suffered a cardiac arrest. The news hit us like a thunderbolt. My stepdad has been part of my life for nearly 40 years and though I’ve always called him “stepdad” he was very much like a second father to me. The details of what exactly happened were unclear except we knew that his heart had stopped for a period of time and he would likely have some sort of brain damage. They were unable to determine the extent since he had a pacemaker and they were unable to determine if it was safe to perform an MRI. Initially it seemed like perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad. On Saturday I talked to my brother, who lives with my mom and stepdad, and the diagnosis was still unclear. We decided to wait until Sunday to visit in hopes that we would have a better understanding of expectations. Late that evening we found out that the outlook was grim and we needed to meet as a family the following day to determine whether or not to keep him on a respirator. We were told that if he survived the removal of the respirator he would likely be in a vegetative state indefinitely.

On Sunday, the 29th, we went and got mom and took her to the hospital. It was so hard to see Johnny in the state he was in. Later than afternoon, after consultation with the physician, we all agreed that it would be best to remove the respirator. I guess at this point I should mention that my mom has a form of Parkinson’s which makes it difficult for her to communicate more than a few words. She’s also wheelchair bound and needs help with all but the most basic tasks. She did give her consent by nodding. After the respirator was removed, we took her home that evening and left her in the care of my brother and his fiancé though we had started to wonder what would be best in the long term at this point. My brother has a good heart and he and his fiancé and her kids have helped take care of mom over the years but you could say he has also relied on their help almost as much as they have relied on him.

The next day I talked to my sister and she thought it might be good for us to take mom home with us that evening and Susie and I agreed. We met my mom and sister at the hospital that afternoon and were there as they moved Johnny from the ICU to a regular room to be made comfortable. Afterwards we returned to Smithville with mom. Susie made dinner and just after we started to eat we got the word that my stepdad had passed. It was Monday, December 30th.

That evening my mom determined that it would okay for Johnny to be an organ donor so we would unable to make arrangements for the funeral until New Year’s Day. Mom continued to stay with us and I knocked together an iPad app which would help her communicate with us. On the first day of 2020 arrangements were made for visitation Sunday with the funeral on Monday the 6th…

I’m probably going into more detail than I should, and there is much more to the situation than I’m willing to put down here. Not to mention that this post would end up being the length of a small novel if I went into detail about all that has happened over the last couple weeks. But the big thing is that it was eventually agreed upon by all the siblings that it would be best for mom to live with Susie and I indefinitely. Somewhere during all of this we came to realize that Johnny had recently arranged hospice care for mom and we had to get all of that transferred over. The people there have been so helpful for her and us in getting her comfortable in her new home.

In the meantime Susie and I are trying to get a handle on what our lives will look like going forward. We’ve both taken a leave of absence from work and our employers have also been so understanding of our situation and helping us work through it. Fortunately we have the resources to allow us to not have to worry about finances right away. But it’s difficult to say how long that will last. There are so many question marks at this point. It’s hard to know what the next week will bring much less what things will look like months down the road.

It’s a rainy morning as I sit here and type this and reflect on everything that’s happened and everything we need to take care of going forward. It’s hard to stay positive sometimes. But right now mom laying in her bed watching the Game Show network, enjoying a nutritious chocolate donut breakfast while waiting for a visit from her nurse. Right this minute everything is basically okay, so that’s good.